Boys’ basketball: Coe-Brown takes John Stark’s best punch, digs down to win in overtime
Published: 02-07-2024 12:41 AM
Modified: 02-07-2024 12:21 PM
NORTHWOOD – If you didn’t know any better, you probably would’ve mistaken it for a playoff game.
Coe-Brown at 10-2; John Stark at 5-9. The Bears fighting to stay in the top four of the Division II standings; the Generals fighting to make the playoffs. It wasn’t the prettiest game of basketball played on Tuesday night, but it sure was entertaining.
The game was tied 12-12 after one quarter, Coe-Brown had a 25-22 lead at halftime and the two teams entered the fourth quarter tied at 36. Only in overtime – after Bears’ junior Matthew Flanagan connected on two free throws at the end of regulation to tie the score at 49 – did Coe-Brown finally awaken from a game-long slumber, pulling away for a 61-53 victory.
“The positive thing is that we had to make a lot of stops in the fourth quarter, and we did,” Coe-Brown head coach Dave Smith said. “Not to take anything away from (John Stark) because they did everything they had to do. They like to play a helter skelter-type of game. They’re very physical, very aggressive, they hit some big shots. We were just fortunate to be able to make some stops when we did.”
The Bears’ free throw shooting didn’t do them any favors, leaving 15 points at the line. But as has often been the case this season, their defense delivered.
Tuesday was the ninth time in the last 10 games that Coe-Brown has held its opponent to under 50 points in regulation. Even trailing 48-45 with just 40.2 seconds left in the fourth, the Bears strung together just enough stops.
Asked to explain his defense’s success all season, Smith provided a simple response.
“The willingness to work hard every day on defense is the key,” he said. “That’s gotta be our game. Offense comes and goes, good nights and bad nights, but defensively, it has to be important, and I think it is important to us. Hopefully we can continue that because we’ve got a lot of tough games ahead.”
The Bears also had four players reach double figures in scoring, with senior Quinn Salter and junior Jack Matson each contributing 15 points, while junior Ryan Kouchoukos added 11 and Flanagan scored 10.
On the other side, the Generals turned in a thoroughly impressive effort in their own right, despite not being able to pick up the win. Effort and intensity have been just as, if not more, central to how John Stark’s played this season, and this was the latest example. It kept the Generals in the game, but they just seemed to run out of steam during the extra four minutes of overtime.
“I was just super proud of them,” John Stark head coach Mike Smith said. “We’ve got a really important week next week. I feel confident that we have the type of team that, they’re ready to meet a challenge like that. They’ve been playing well here for the most part over the last week, week-and-a-half. I’m excited to see what we can do here to finish out the season. The only thing I could say to them was I was proud of them.”
Senior forward Donnie White led the Generals in scoring with 13 points; junior guard Hayden Pond added 10.
Now 5-10, John Stark currently sits in 15th place out of 20 teams in D-II. The top 14 qualify for the playoffs. The Generals play their final three regular season games against Merrimack Valley (6-8), Sanborn (6-8) and Pembroke (11-2).
“‘Tonight is what we’re working for; this is what we’re working toward, so be aware,’” Mike Smith said he told his team. “Sometimes you make these goals about, ‘Let’s make the tournament.’ If we make the tournament, we want to compete; we just don’t want to be happy to be there. We saw tonight, (Coe-Brown) is a really good team. We hung with them the whole time. I was proud of how we prepped and how we executed and just their guts. We just got some kids that are just really gutty kids, and it’s fun to watch them play.”
Tuesday was also significant in that it was the annual matchup between father Dave Smith and son Mike Smith. Their games against each other are usually a battle, Dave said after. This was no different.
And it had the added benefit of featuring two teams playing for playoff seeding.
“It’s difficult. I don’t really look forward to it,” Dave said of coaching against his son. “He knows what we’re going to do. We know pretty much what he’s going to do. … You know what’s going to happen. You know it’s not going to be easy regardless.”